Now that BYU and Utah have finished pounding each other for another season, perhaps they can get on to other matters, such as the NCAA tournament, for instance. That is, if they have anything left for it. Both the Cougars and the Utes are assured of berths in the tournament. For their sakes, maybe they should be seeded in regionals at opposite ends of the country. Heaven knows, they've had enough of each other for one year.
On Saturday evening, they moved their rivalry to Laramie, Wyo., of all places, to meet for the third time in three weeks. The first time they met it was for the WAC regular-season championship. Utah won that game. The second time they met was just for fun. Utah won that one, too, in overtime. This time it was for the Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament championship. Forty-five exhausting, thrilling minutes later, BYU was a narrow 51-49 winner, in overtime.Thanks to a ticky-tack foul call on Tyrone Tate with eight seconds left in overtime, Nathan Call went to the foul line and made both shots. The Utes had one chance to tie it, and it was a good one. Josh Grant pulled up at the three-point line and drew two defenders - Gary Trost and Call. That left Tate - Call's defensive assignment - all alone under the basket. Grant alertly whipped the pass to him. Tate went up for an easy layup - and the ball bounced off the rim and out. Tate caught it and put up another shot, with the same results. This time Craig Rydalch slapped the ball into the basket - but the referees ruled it was after time had expired.
That decision was widely disputed. ESPN's Terry Holland reportedly said that Rydalch made the shot before the horn sounded. Referee David Hall said, "The shot was definitely late, so why would it matter what the horn did."
Afterward, Tate sat dejectedly on the floor, then got up and ran to the locker room to be alone. Finally, a teammate retrieved him for post-game ceremonies.
"Tyrone Tate is my biggest concern right now," said Utah coach Rick Majerus. "He thinks he's to blame for the loss, which is ridiculous. We had lots of chances to win."
And so they did, but finally the Utes, who have rallied for so many victories this season and who trailed BYU by nine points in the second half, ran out of comebacks.
Victory or no, Utah, 28-3 and the WAC regular-season champ, and BYU, 20-12 and the WAC runnerup, head to next week's NCAA tournament.
Now for a rest. Both teams need it. Saturday's finale was their fourth game in eight days, and it showed. They combined to miss 19 free throws and to shoot 33 percent from the field.
For the Cougars, it was their third overtime game in eight days and their second in 24 hours. Eight days earlier, they took Utah into overtime in Provo, and lost. In that game, Shawn Bradley, the 7-foot-6 freshman wonder, had a mere six points. This time it was a different story, and it made all the difference for the Cougars.Bradley totaled 21 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player (he also set a tournament record of 34 rebounds and joined Trost, Grant, Reggie Slater and Ray Reed on the all-tournament team).
"I've maintained all along that he's the best freshman in the country," said Majerus. "He'll be the best player in the history of the WAC."
But how far in the future will that be? Asked if he had decided his plans, he said, "Yeah, but I'll let y'all know after the season ends. But I am filling my papers out for the (church) mission."
Good riddance, say the Utes. Bradley caused them fits the entire game, and in some ways that will never be measured directly by statistics. The Utes shot 34 percent and much of that was due to Bradley swatting shots out of the air or at least threatening to do so. His very presence caused Paul Afeaki to travel and forced M'Kay McGrath to throw a bank shot to the top of the glass.
In the first half, the Utes shot 33.3 percent from the field. By halftime they had a mere 15 points - a tournament record. The only thing that spared them was that their rivals were shooting worse - 27.3 percent. But the Cougars also held an 18-15 lead.
When Bradley wasn't causing problems, the Cougars' tempo - milking the shot clock on each possession - was.
"We wanted them to have to play a lot of defense, and we felt that would affect their shooting, and it did," said BYU coach Roger Reid. "(Center) Walter Watts had to stay out of the game, so they could have a faster lineup, and he scored just three points."
The Utes fell behind 29-20 in the second half, but finally they awoke. Grant dropped in a three-point shot and was fouled by Bradley in the process. His foul shot completed a four-point play and closed the gap to 33-31 with 7:24 remaining.
"With 12 minutes to go, Coach set a goal that we would only be down by four with seven minutes left, and we did it," said Grant.
The Utes kept coming. Byron Wilson shot a trey from the corner that rolled around once, smacked the backboard and rolled in. After trailing since midway in the first half, the Utes had finally caught the Cougars, 42-all, with 2:21 left.
When Grant rebounded Mark Heslop's miss at the other end with 1:27 left, the game was the Utes' to win. But the Utes foolishly let the shot clock run out and Wilson had to take a desperate, hurried 25-footer that missed badly.
With 15 seconds left, Call drove to the glass for a layup and drew a foul. He missed the foul shot, giving the Utes - down 44-42 - one more shot. They got it. Watts dunked with four seconds left and drew a foul from Bradley. But he, too, missed the foul shot.
The Cougars once again seemed to have matters under control when Scott Moon drove from the wing for a layup, giving BYU a 49-45 lead. But with 30 seconds left, Wilson buried a trey and drew a foul from Moon. Another four-point play. Wilson's foul shot made it 49-all with 30 seconds left.
With eight seconds left, McCall was dribbling to his left when Tate brushed him slightly with his chest. That was ruled a foul.
"I don't like to see a foul called in that situation," said Majerus.
After Call made the free throws, the Utes made another unsuccessful bid to rescue a victory. Grant was supposed to use a Wilson pick to go to the basket, but he spotted Tate alone underneath.
"I thought we were headed for double overtime," said Trost.
"That shot mirrored how we played the whole game," said Grant. "We all missed easy shots."
Following the game, Reid was ready to declare this, "my most gratifying year at BYU." Certainly a win over his archrival helped.